Making Waves
by Tawna Fenske
(Sourcebooks, $6.99, R) ISBN 978-1-4022-5721-6
****
While stocking up on reduced-price romance novels from my nearest soon-to-be-extinct Borders (moment of silence, please), I stumbled upon a real gem. Making Waves, by debut novelist Tawna Fenske, is a funny, sexy, screwball romance that is reminiscent of early Jennifer Crusie. And yes, I know what a compliment that is, and I don't use the comparison lightly.

Juli Flynn and Alex Bradshaw wind up in a seedy Caribbean bar for vastly different reasons. Juli has chartered a boat to fulfill her weird Uncle Frank's last wish to have his ashes scattered over his favorite sailing spot. Alex and his three former co-workers are setting off on a desperate scheme to steal millions of dollars in diamonds from the boss who screwed them over and cost them their pensions. Our hero and heroine meet, flirt, somehow win a Newlywed Game bar contest, kiss and finally say goodbye with some reluctance. But that's only the beginning. When Alex and his would-be pirate crew take off the next morning, they find that Juli has inadvertently stowed away on the boat, and given the exact timing they need to accomplish their mission, they can't afford to turn back and return her to shore.

I rolled my eyes and groaned at this set-up. Come on, an allegedly capable woman gets stuck on a boat because she takes too many anti-seasickness pills? Next thing you know she will trip on a stray rope left lying around on deck and end up in Alex's arms. Or there will be a Big Misunderstanding and Alex will think she's a hooker. Luckily, neither of those things happen.

The plot has a lot of implausible developments, but they all make sense if you accept Fenske's slightly skewed perspective, and none of them require Juli to act like a ditzy airhead. In fact, Juli and Alex are my favorite type of hero and heroine - quirky but not damaged, mature (she's 37, he's 42) and well-seasoned, they actually seem to like each other as much as they are attracted to each other. They are both having a grand time on the adventure of their lives, and the obstacles that keep them apart aren't silly Big Misunderstandings but timing and a lack of trust due to secrets they feel they have no choice but to keep. Juli has never fit in anywhere, and the camaraderie she develops with Alex's friends is almost as rewarding as her growing romantic feelings for Alex.

The witty and often bawdy humor arises both from the dialogue and the situations the characters find themselves in, and the secondary characters are broad but charming. There are several surprising plot twists and turns, and none of it is taken terribly seriously (including the potential hazards of a bunch of novice pirates robbing a ruthless money-laundering embezzler). The whole thing bursts with energy, and 300 pages pass by almost too quickly.

I'm not the first reviewer to mention Fenske in the same sentence as Jennifer Crusie, and I saw one comparison to satirical author Carl Hiaasen as well. It could be beginner's luck, but judging from Fenske's very entertaining blog, "Don't Pet Me, I'm Writing," she has a wry sense of humor. If she has more memorable plots and characters up her sleeve, I suspect she will soon be a reader favorite.

--Susan Scribner


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